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Student Blog

CESJDS 2018 Final Speeches

CESJDS 2018 students spoke eloquently about their teachers, Akiva Gersh and Elhanan Brown, during their end of session banquet. Take a look at what they wrote:

Akiva Gersh

Everlasting light. Spiritual. Inspirational. Peaceful. Selfless. Jewish mentor Passionate  Life changing Good shabbas Motivating kind full of wisdom accepting and open minded genuine impactful spiritual leader Dedication. passion inspirational caring  Inspiring.

We went around and asked your class to give us one word or phrase that comes to mind when reflecting on our experiences with you as our teacher, mentor and friend. The words we just read are a small testament to the impact you have made on each and every one of us.


It is no surprise that the word inspirational was the most recurrent word given when reflecting on your character. Inspiration goes further than the mere definition of the word, it is your ability to speak to everyone on a meaningful, personal level. Throughout the last three months you have emphasized the connection between the physical and the spiritual. Following our last hike you ended the conversation with the quote “perhaps the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land”. This speaks to your character and your inspirational approach to life on so many different levels. This phrase stretches beyond simply the Arab-Israeli conflict, but rather teaches us to rethink how we interact with the land on which we live and the people on this land. The discussions you facilitate enable everyone to think deeper about the issue or topic at hand, and even more so about the person we are and the person we aspire to be. Your ability to always see both sides of a situation has taught us the importance of dialogue and discussion, and always inspires us to think critically about norms that we are accustomed to.


The genuine and pure care you have for those around you, your students, and the environment is truly remarkable. Regardless of our opinions or background, you never fail to express a sincere understanding and care for us as individuals.

One example of Akiva’s deep care for us goes back to an experience I had in Poland. I left my winter coat at the airport on the way there and Akiva specifically went out of his way to ensure I had time to get a coat when we arrived. He pulled me aside and helped me find the store, figured out the money conversion, and got me the coat I needed. Another place where Akiva shows the utmost compassion is in regards to the environment. During a break on one of our hikes, Akiva brought up the topic of bananas. At first we thought nothing of the simple fruit, but by the end of the discussion he had us all thinking profoundly about how we interact with the world around us.

Akiva, you have shown us all what it means to truly care for others. While we have learned many lessons from you over the past 3 months, the lesson of treating others and the world with care is one we will carry within us for the rest of our lives.


When Akiva came to JDS to prepare us for our upcoming Israel trip he summarized what we should expect during the three months. He explained that he would teach us a vast amount of information and lessons while we travel around the country. We understood that we would be learning, but what we couldn’t yet anticipate was the true dedication and passion you would have for what you would teach. Your dedication to Judaism. Your dedication to Israel. your dedication to improving the world. And what what we are truly thankful for, your dedication to each of us.

On Sunday night Brooke, Dalia and I were walking to the lobby of our hostel to begin writing our thank you letter. On our way down we ran into Akiva. We waved hi expecting to be on our way. However, because of Akiva’s dedication, no matter the time or place he’s willing to stop and have a conversion with us. We started talking about the trip and before we knew it we spent an hour reflecting on our lives. Realizing that we were talking in a stairwell at 10 o’clock at night we truly understood how special it was to have a teacher who was so dedicated to us.

Your dedication and passion has gone further than educating us about israel and judaism. It has truly impacted our daily lives. There’s a reason that five of us have become vegans and vegetarians over the trip. The passion you have to improve the world has spread to us. Your passion has turned a meat lover into a vegan. It was inspired teenagers to feel connected to shabbat.  It has made us eager to be better people in our community, and we are truly thankful for that.

Akiva, words can’t describe how lucky we feel to have been your students for the past three months. The lessons that you instilled within us will guide us as we embark on the next chapter of our lives. On behalf of your class we want to thank you and we hope you know that you truly made a impact on each and every one of us.


Elhanan Brown

To our dearest Uncle Elchy-

We’re so grateful to have had you as a teacher on our HSI journey. Your passion for teaching never fails to inspire us to want to learn for the sake of learning. We always enjoy your interactive activities during our tiyulim. Wether it was playing the pointing game in Poland, testing to see if we could survive on an island, or pouring water on someone’s head during our hike you always kept us intrigued and involved in our learning. One of our favorite memories of Poland was when we were on the bus and realized our TV didn’t have sound so you got on the microphone and sang all of the parts of the song tradition from Fiddler on the Roof to us. Although this was a small moment, it is something we will remember. On all of our hikes you pushed us to believe in ourselves. You even came up with a song for us to sing all the way up Masada. It’s been stuck in our heads ever since and here’s how it goes: “מצדה זה לא קשה מצדה זה לא קשה מצדה קשה מצדה קשה מצדה זה לא קשה”. But seriously, each and every hike made us feel so accomplished and we couldn’t have done it without you. You’re very knowledgeable on all places in Israel and we appreciate you sharing your collection of maps with us wherever we went. But of course we can’t forget the amazing rap that you sang to us. You set the bar really high, announcements have never been so fly. Every time we sing this song we think of you and this beat. But we know we can’t do it as well so we’re just going to end it here. We also love when you bring your family along on Tiyulim and shabbatot and we’re still embarrassed that Timmy hiked Gilboa so effortlessly while we were intimidated. A valuable lesson you taught us was to take every opportunity that’s given to us and to always keep our options open. This is something that we carried with us throughout the trip and will continue to carry with us throughout our lives. Thank you for constantly reminding us that this is our trip and it’s our job to make this experience positive. Don’t forget, because we know we never will. Teek all hagav, kova all harosh, and chaverim yalla.